Mermade Magickal Arts – Dia de Los Muertos, Pachamama, Sweet Earth, Sandalwood Oud Antique, Ali’s Rare Incense Powder 2015, Kyphi 2016, Oud Kyphi

As mentioned in my New Year’s post, Mermade Magickal Arts incense goes fast these days, although many of their incenses come back as vintages. This, of course, is a credit to the venerable Nevada institution who never fail to keep improving their art form. In recent years we have seen all sorts of new directions from them, including a line of central/southern/meso-American incenses, forays into Japanese style oud and sandalwood mixes, hybrids of these with resin and oud ingredients, and even a successful jump into Tibetan incense. Personally this continual high level of excellence and creativity has me watching the site fairly often, which means that the reviews here can come from samples or purchases. Sometimes I can’t get to reviews fast enough before certain scents rocket out of the inventory. So it’s worth keeping an eye out whether at the site or especially on Facebook for the next creation. Anyway I hope to tackle some recent new incenses here. The last time I looked all of these were available for purchase but it’s worth acting fast these days. The two new Kyphi vintages just went up after the New Year!

The first two incenses on this list fall roughly in the central/southern/meso-American category and are somewhat superficially similar in that both are blends of white copal, black copal and palo santo. In Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the emphasis is on the two copals with the palo santo wood being a slight, although noticeable touch. Copal has been called the frankincense of the west for good reason, but when it comes to the really quality forms of it, copal really has a strong and powerful personality all of its own, a much denser, earthy undertone to it that only the darkest frankincense resins and myrrhs touch on. Mixing the white (blanco) and black (negro) copals tends to be a perfect match, just like frankincense and myrrh, chocolate and peanut butter, salt and pepper etc. It gives the overall aroma the bright, lemony-piney notes of the white copal with the more subdued and mysterious elements of the black copal. I really love how in the middle it’s all so foresty but in such a different, more temperate way than how we describe it when we think of something green. It’s worth noting that lower temperatures on a heater won’t volatize the copal quite so quickly and allows the scent to dreamily work its way to your attention.

Pachamama incense uses a similar list of ingredients but I believe the locations from where the copals come may be different and there is a much higher ratio of Palo Santo in the mix. The ingredients list Palo Santo resin and wood from a recent shipment of really extraordinary Palo Santo which almost revolutionized my opinion of the wood. This is a really powerful and aromatic, with some minty overtones I had never noticed from previous samples, and is certainly worth grabbing on its own. It has an immense presence in this mix and the results end up being quite a bit different from Dia de Los Muertos as a result. The copals here really share the scent rather than dominate and strangely enough, I’d say that this actually seems more resinous and less woody than the previous incense, with a really impressive amount of complexity given the short list. Pachamama whispers of shamanic ceremonies in deep rainforests, rays of sunlight through leaves and the rich fertilized earth of an unspoiled nature.

Sweet Earth seems to touch on a lot of the same aspects of Pachamama but with a totally different palette. While Palo Santo remains in the ingredients list, we’re back in the more familiar territory and base of a (honey) frankincense and myrrh mix. The incense is a marvel in terms of how the incense reflects the name, how the whole scent profile comes from such an earthy base, that sort of freshly tilled, post-harvest scent of leavened soil, loam and clay. There aren’t really the notes of more citrusy frankincenses which allows the mellower honey scent to merge with the liquidambar storax and create the sweetness of the name. The poplar buds/Balm of Gilead is a scent I’m not particularly aware of on its own, so there was a complexity in the incense I found to be quite evocative and fresh. In some ways this incense is about half familiar (I was reminded of the previous Dionysos in part) and half completely new and unique, yet it’s overall quite inventive and original, and most importantly quite addictive.

Moving across the Pacific, we have Mermade’s latest Japanese-Oud hybrid incense Sandalwood Oud Antique, perhaps a follow up to the previous Ensense Antique. These incenses fall in the premium category due to the list of rare and high level ingredients being used, in fact there seems to be quite a high level of agarwood going on here from several sources, always a treat. This underlies the high quality sandalwood in the mix which is mostly dominant but the real twist here is the use of two oud oils. These oils as a mix strike me as being rich, spicy yet not overpowering, a merger that is aimed to create an equality with the finer wood qualities. Like with previous styles, there’s a really nice Japanese, almost candy-like mix that reminds me of certain work from, say, Shoyeido. Towards the end of the heat, things get quite spicy. Overall it’s a very classy blend, very stately.

We’re also seeing vintages of old classics come through, which is always heartening. One of these classics is Gregg King’s Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have reviewed this venerable scent once or twice in the past (I seem to remember the first batch of it being a mix of “lozenges” and powder) and have never seen it as anything less than a mandatory incense treat. Be sure to look at the list of ingredients in the link to see just how many fine ingredients are here, what’s always been extraordinary is that not only do they all mix well, but none of them are buried in the overall scent. It makes it once of the deepest and most complex incenses on the market. The sandalwood is perhaps the most noticeable link among all the ingredients in its luxuriant and most resonant guise, but for me I really love the way the vanilla works in this incense. Vanilla in so many cheap incenses is just a headache waiting to happen, in Ali’s Rare Incense Powder it is a delectable treat. Anyway for further impressions on this blend, it might be worth digging for previous reviews as there’s never been a batch of this that didn’t impress and I’ve never felt the quality to waver in any way.

And as it’s the beginning of the year, it is also Kyphi time and the 2016 vintage is as good as you could possibly expect. In fact I think I would need a time machine back to ancient Egypt to find a market kyphi that’s better than this one. The problem on my end is as these vintages improve with every year I’m running out of superlatives to describe it (sifting back through previous Kyphi reviews is also recommended here, I would think all of them still apply). You would need the equivalent of a Wine Spectator expert who could sift through the many subtleties of such a complex incense to really describe this Kyphi, as in many ways it is the fine, aged wine of incense and actually shares the qualities of really good spirits in terms of power and quality. In fact this is an incense where so many ingredients come together and end up merging into one totality where it can be actually difficult to make any differentiation from one ingredient to another. What’s even more impressive is there’s a second blend called Oud Kyphi which is a form of the original with added oud and agarwood before the incense becomes cured. It’s just like when you don’t think the Kyphi could get any more stunning, along comes this upgrade. Surely this could be one of the finest boutique incenses ever devised, it’s certainly not the kind of scent you’d double task to even if you’re able to. It’s a virtual whirlwind of complexity and astonishment, the kind of scent that could only truly be approached by fine poetry.

As I finish this up I also want to mention I’ve really been enjoying the Labdanum resin from Crete. When you think of how many great incenses from Mermade are made from such excellent quality material, it behooves one to occasionally check out some of the material on its own. I’ve tried labdanum before, but some of it can come with some nasty off notes. No worry, there are none of those here, quite to the contrary. So don’t forget to check this out as well as the palo santo wood and some of the many fine frankincenses and copals Mermade carry. There are many treasures to uncover here.



  1. william273 said,

    January 20, 2016 at 5:37 am

    Nice to hear about some Copal. Have been burning a good bit of it lately and am enjoying it very much. I have the White, Gold and Dark and will have to mix them and see how they blend…haven’t done that before and usually burn them unmixed one at a time. I found the Dark Copal to have a bit of a learning curve but am getting it now. There is some Indian Damar that’s like the Dark but more friendly to the nose. Thanks Mike.

  2. Chris said,

    January 6, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    Great reviews, Mike. You just inspired me to order the most recent vintage Wildwood as well as the copal negro from Peru. I have the Maydi Saffron Bakhoor. It is elegant, stunning and on the subtle side for a bakhoor. Highly recommend it.

    • Mike said,

      January 7, 2016 at 8:14 am

      Thanks Chris, definitely on my next time list. 🙂

  3. Brad said,

    January 6, 2016 at 9:38 am

    I have to agree about the new Wild Wood it a sample I recently recieved seems much more vivid than the jar I have from last this summer. It is definitely a favorite. I also just tried Golden Boughs. It is simply amazing. Katlyn is a true artist.

    • Mike said,

      January 6, 2016 at 9:49 am

      Ah good to know there’s a new Golden Bough, I was just looking at a previous vintage when sorting through stuff. Having to do up a new list now 🙂

      • Mike said,

        January 6, 2016 at 9:56 am

        Another one I haven’t tried is the Maydi Saffron Bakhoor, would love to get anyone’s impressions on this.

  4. incenselesley said,

    January 4, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    Terrific post Mike– I want to try everything in this review. Your superb writing has me sold. It all sounds incredibly gorgeous and well thought out. So happy to know there are people out there elevating incense into a true art form and putting serious effort into making some truly exceptional compositions.

    • Mike said,

      January 4, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      Hi Lesley and thanks :)! Mermade was the first company I tried in the late 90s that really made me feel there could be a huge depth to incense. Back then things were a bit harder to get but I found a place that distributed them and I still have this vivid scent memory of heating an incense called Shamanic Circle for the first time in my band’s practice space. It had such a huge effect on me that I kept getting wafts of the scent even a full day after heating it as if it had made an imprint on me. To this day I’m not sure there would be an ORS without that experience and watching the company grow over the years and become so widely loved and respected has been one of the great joys of running this site. it’s worth mentioning that Katlyn’s artwork on the labels is equally impressive and I feel the symbiosis between the art and incense strengthens both.

      Anyway have been loving your reviews too and can’t wait to read your impressions of anything Mermade. 🙂 Also my Wild Wood just showed up, so I may have a few more comments to add here in the very near future!

      • incenselesley said,

        January 6, 2016 at 8:12 am

        Mike, amazing how a single moment can have such a tremendous effect. Shamanic Circle must have been some incense!

        Your commitment to the incense community and incense artisans is wonderful… hearing about your relationship with Mermade really makes me happy. I love seeing people support each other.

        And I didn’t know that I was admiring Katlyn’s artwork! I just assumed it was commissioned… She’s a talented woman. Her artwork is marvelously intricate and evocative.

        Thank you for your (always) kind words and I have no doubt that I’ll be exploring Mermade in the future. After reading your enticing reviews how could I not! 😉

        Looking forward to *your* reviews as always and I’m really interested in hearing your take on the latest edition of Wild Wood. It sounds so luxuriously green!

        • Mike said,

          January 6, 2016 at 8:46 am

          The latest edition of Wild Wood is outstanding. I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe how the new batches seem to get better every time, and I think the word I’d use is resolution. That is Wild Wood has always been good but I think it’s more sublime this year, there’s more subtlety and resolution to it. Forest Balsam also had this kind of resolution, it’s like the scent hangs in the air like a hologram and you can just endlessly look at it from different angles with a certain kind of stillness, it’s like one scent with various subscents adding up to the whole. I’m a huge fan of the green incenses, they’re one of my favorite styles overall. This year’s packs the same wonderful green aroma except it’s a bit more gentle in execution. I also got the latest Dark Goddess vintage and this is also excellent (although from fading memory, vintages seem to vary more in style and execution). I have this habit of leaving my heater on over night sometimes and when I came down into the room, the whole bottom floor had this amazing resinous aroma wafting through. BTW, Katlyn mentioned on Facebook that Pachamama and Sweet Earth will have new vintages coming up as well, so lots of good news this New Year.

          • incenselesley said,

            January 9, 2016 at 4:03 pm

            Mike you caught my heart with “the scent hangs in the air like a hologram and you can just endlessly look at it from different angles”. The way you describe things is endlessly appealing and insightful. Can’t think of a better way to describe appreciating a complex incense.

            Great news about Pachamama and Sweet Earth!

            • Mike said,

              January 10, 2016 at 1:49 pm

              Thanks Lesley, I do my best to describe. The more sublime the scent the harder it is really. 🙂

  5. Mike said,

    January 4, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Apologies for any typos, WordPress has been a total drag today, failing to take edits and even this comment a couple times.

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